Known as the "silent killer," it sneaks in when you least expect it. Follow these carbon monoxide safety tips to keep you and your family safe at home.According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, carbon monoxide poisoning was responsible for 430 deaths per year from 1999-2010. It's no surprise, then, that carbon monoxide safety tips continue to be a focus for families everywhere, especially if you live in a home with a furnace or other CO-generating device. Follow some basic guidelines and stay informed about carbon monoxide and the dangers it presents, and you can drastically reduce the likelihood of carbon monoxide poisoning for you and your family.
What is carbon monoxide?Carbon monoxide is a colorless, tasteless, odorless gas; it's the byproduct of oxidized carbon compounds, such as coal or gasoline. It is known as the "silent killer" because victims of carbon monoxide poisoning rarely know there's a danger because of the gas's inability to be detected by human senses alone.
We produce carbon monoxide every day when we run our cars, kitchen stoves, furnaces, and fireplaces. Most of the time, these items produce so little carbon monoxide that the risk is minimal to nonexistent. Other times, like when operating a vehicle, gas disperses into the air so quickly that we don't breathe enough of it to become sick. However, at home, and especially during the winter, your house can trap carbon monoxide gas inside with catastrophic results.
Carbon monoxide safety tip #1: Install CO detectorsJust as you should install smoke detectors throughout your house, you should also install CO detectors. This is the only way you'll know if there are dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in your home. It's ideal to install CO detectors low to the ground because the gas mixes with air and sinks, as opposed to smoke which rises. If you're using a combination CO/smoke detector, still install it on the ceiling, but if you want to play it extra safe, get separate detectors for each potential threat.
If you only have one or two CO detectors, you should first place one in or very near to sleeping areas since that is when we are most likely to suffer the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning. Other places you should prioritize are the kitchen and wherever your furnace is located (usually the basement). You might also consider installing one in the garage since cars generate a lot of carbon monoxide, which can add up quickly in an enclosed space.
Carbon monoxide safety tip #2: Check the batteries regularlyAgain, as you would do with smoke detectors, regularly check and replace the batteries in your CO detectors. It's best to test the detectors once a month, and regardless of whether or not the batteries still work, you should replace them twice a year to make sure the devices will function in the event of an emergency. Many people change the batteries when they change the clocks just as an easy way of remembering to do so.
Carbon monoxide safety tip #3: Don't let your car run in the garageCars generate a significant amount of carbon monoxide. For this reason, it's important that you never run your car in the garage. If you need to run the vehicle for any reason, such as to warm it up in the wintertime, move the vehicle out of the garage first or open the door. It's also important to make sure that the exhaust pipe isn't clogged with snow or anything else while running the vehicle. Avoid sitting in the car while it's idling if you can.
Carbon monoxide safety tip #4: Check exhaust portsMost people wouldn't think about it, but snow and debris buildup in exhaust ports can cause carbon monoxide problems. Make sure that the pipes from things like your furnace, stove, and dryer are clear of any buildup, especially in fall and winter when leaves and snow get trapped in various places. The best time to check is immediately following a storm, but even if the weather is clear for a while, you should check for leaves and debris every couple of weeks, just to be sure.
Carbon monoxide safety tip #5: Have a safety plan
No matter how hard you try to prevent it, dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can still enter your home. If your CO detector goes off, make sure you have a plan in place. Everyone in your home should get to an area with fresh air: outside or in another house. Make sure everyone knows the number of the fire department as carbon monoxide alarms are typically not considered cause for 911. However, if anyone is experiencing any symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, call 911 right away to get help.
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Has carbon monoxide been a problem for you? Share your experiences and safety tips in the comments below.